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Local Reactions After Covid-19 Vaccine Can Mimic Signs Of Breast Cancer

Minor reactions following Covid-19 vaccination are common, and can include fever, chills, fatigue, body aches, a bump or redness at the injection site, or lymph node swelling. All of these are signs that the immune system is appropriately responding by developing antibodies. This is a good thing (although do not fear if you have no reaction at all— this is also fine). These reactions are more commonly seen in younger individuals, and because lymph node swelling tends to develop as a reaction to a nearby area of the body, the nodes in the armpit region can become inflamed after the Covid-19 vaccine. As these lymph nodes are near the outer breast tissue, women have raised valid concerns that these lymph nodes are breast masses or breast cancer metastases.

As one in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, this is an important distinction to address. Because as common as breast cancer is, inflamed lymph nodes due to breast cancer are very rare, and cause for more concern. Less than 0.5% of patients with breast cancer present with axillary (armpit) lymph nodes, but when they are present in the setting of cancer, there is a 50% chance that they are either cancerous or representing another type of cancer such as leukemia or lymphoma. This finding has led many women to seek early evaluation, including surgical consultations and mammography or ultrasonography to assess these lymph nodes following their Covid-19 vaccine.

Dr. Rebecca Gamss, Breast Radiologist at Hackensack Radiology Group/Hackensack University Medical Center, notes, “We are seeing cases of women with new enlarged axillary lymph nodes on the same side as their Covid vaccine.:

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